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What’s it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia

Stefan Arestis
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“Why should I spend my tourist dollars in a country that wants to throw me in jail?!”

This was our dilemma before setting off for our big travel adventures in Asia – as a gay couple. If it isn’t illegal (like in Sri Lanka, Singapore, the Maldives, Malaysia, Myanmar…), then it’s certainly not truly welcomed (think Indonesia, Russia, China or Mongolia).

A few (like Nepal and Vietnam) have taken proactive steps to start to protect their LGBT community instead of criminalising them. And some have gone further to not only protect their LGBT community, but to embrace, support them and in addition, actively promote gay tourism: Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines.

So as a gay traveller, does that mean you shouldn’t visit countries like Russia, Sri Lanka or Myanmar? Are you really under any practical danger visiting a country like Malaysia or the Maldives? Should you take that hard line approach and avoid visiting some of the most beautiful areas of our planet just because of some really archaic, backwards laws?

After over 18 months travelling as a gay couple in Asia, here's a few lessons we learnt and hope we can relay to all gay travellers in this post:

Gay couple travelling in Asia Boracay Philippines
The Mandala Spa on Boracay island in the Philippines used our image to promote their Rainbow Romance package

1. Ignore the anti-gay laws: as a foreigner you are completely safe!

One common opinion we found in every single country we visited: most people just couldn’t care less about you. Not in a bad way of course. Their priorities are their jobs, family, paying their bills, educating their children, putting food on the table.

No one heterosexual was ever interested in what the Nomadic Boys got up to in the bedroom (or bathtub…!):

Gay couple travelling in Asia bath fun in Hue Vietnam
What could the Nomadic Boys possibly be doing behind closed doors? (Bath fun in Hue, Central Vietnam)

At no stage during our travels in Asia did we ever feel threatened or in danger for being gay.

At worst, the gay club we went to in Delhi was busted by the police at 1am – this was pre-2018 when the anti-gay laws of India were still in place. The policemen were using the then anti-gay laws to get a bribe from the club promoters. Everyone else was left alone and told to leave via the back door.

Travelling as a gay couple in Asia India tuk tuk Delhi
Look out for those corrupt police in India…any excuse for a bribe!

We are not obviously gay when you first meet us, we don’t mince about waving a rainbow flag, nor do we show any public displays of affection like holding hands or kissing (we don’t do this anyway back home in London/Lyon).

At the very worst, we got the whole“double bed – are you sure?!” or “are you twins/brothers?” type of questions a lot.

Travelling in Asia as a gay couple Jaipur India Rajesthan
Do we really look like brothers? Posing at Jaipur's City Palace in Northern India

2. One rule for locals, another for tourists

In every country we visited in Asia, gay tourists are always treated differently compared to LGBT locals.

Our friend Kaluu from Colombo pointed out that whilst homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka, the police almost always turn a blind eye to tourists: no one wants to get involved with foreign embassies if it ever came to that.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Sri Lanka anti gay laws practical implications
Will the Sri Lankan police turn a blind eye if they caught this stolen kiss on Mirissa beach?

In Malaysia, we met many gay locals, really excited to show us round. However, they asked us to not use their name on our blog for fear of negative implications on their work and by their society.

Yet the hotels we worked with throughout Malaysia were delighted to embrace and welcome us as a gay couple and promote pink tourism, like The Four Seasons on Langkawi island who arranged this lovers ritual ceremony for us:

Gay couple travelling in Asia Langkawi island Malaysia
Part of the lover's ritual following our massage at the Four Seasons Langkawi spa in Malaysia

Tourism is big business, so foreigners will always be given special treatment despite the homophobic laws.

The only exception is Brunei: a tiny country on Borneo island, which is financially independent, funded by oil, so no interest in tourism. And also the autonomous Aceh province in North Indonesia.

In both Brunei and Aceh, extreme Sharia Law applies, so both gay locals and LGBT tourists risk some form of public whipping and/or death by stoning.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Rinca Island Komodo National Park Indonesia
“BAD GAY BOY STEFAN! THAT'S 100 LASHES!” Sebastien demonstrating some of the subtleties of Sharia Law

3. Despite anti-gay laws, it IS ethical to spend money in these countries

Is it ethical to spend money in countries which criminalise their LGBT communities?

We say a big fat yes of course!

We have been criticised for promoting LGBT travel to countries like the Russia, Maldives, Malaysia, Sri Lanka etc, but we always question the true value of a blanket ban on gay tourists visiting such countries.

Gay couple travelling Asia Pingyao China
We say bring on the gay tourism to all of Asia!

The money you spend on holiday mainly goes to the local businesses you are eating at, staying at or touring with.

In other words, the people benefiting are every day people like you and me (maybe straight, maybe gay), who simply want to make a living for themselves, and not the politicians who are creating and promoting anti gay laws.

In most cases, these local businesses probably don’t even agree or care for these laws.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Gay life in Kuala Lumpur continues to strive at Marketplace which has a gay night every Saturday

Most importantly of all, if you visit a gay owned or gay friendly establishment during your travels, your money helps them flourish in a society, which is likely to be fighting to close them down or make their lives difficult.

Your presence there is invaluable in supporting the local LGBT community and businesses, as well as helping them flourish. We wrote more about this in our articles exploring whether Russia is safe for gay travellers, as well as why India is safe for gay travellers.

And finally, we strongly believe that meeting and engaging with gay locals is far more productive then refusing to visit their country in the first place.

Gay couple travelling in Asia Bali Joe gay bar Seminyak Bali Indonesia
Embracing our new friends at Bali Joe gay bar in Bali, Indonesia

4. So go on and book your flight to Delhi, Male, Colombo etc

We strongly believe boycotting a country like Malaysia, Myanmar, the Maldives, Sri Lanka etc is counter productive.

Actually going out there and supporting LGBT owned businesses and making friends and interacting with the local LGBT community is far more effective then boycotting their country.

Imagine you were in their shoes, would you prefer your gay sisters abroad to ignore you, or come over and embrace and support you?

We sure know what we'd choose.

And you'll make heaps of friends along the way!

Gay couple travelling in Asia LGBT community Kuching Sarawak Malaysia
Hanging out with our friends in Kuching, Sarawak on the Malaysian side of Borneo island

Happy travels are safe travels

We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.

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What's it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia?
Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor and author of the gay travel blog As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about travelling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gay Times, Gaycities, Pink News, Gay Star News, Attitude and Towleroad. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practised as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

105 thoughts on “What’s it like travelling as a gay couple in Asia”

  1. India has repealed its old British anti-gay law, and that is reason enough to help the country heal from one of the last vestiges of colonialism. I for one, would be more than happy now to visit India, and very much hope to visit again, one day.

    As for the 76 other countries that still criminalise gay relationships between LGBT+ people, I would never visit such a place unless I was prepared to lose my freedom in a far-away prison. Before placing myself in harm’s way, I would prepare well in advance so the experience was documented and publicised. It would be solely for activist reasons, not for touring pleasure.

    Even for countries where it’s partly legal to be gay, but there is no protection of civil rights, such as Russia, and its former Soviet possessions, I would prepare for it to be a one way trip, given the rising animus in those countries against LGBT+ citizens and the lack of respect for human life.

  2. I feel safe traveling in Thailand, I think that country is very friendly to LGBT.

    I’m living in a city in Indonesia, different with Bali, my city is homophobic, if we caught dating in public, it’s possible we will be end up in police station, or if we caught by “low level” economy people, we will be beaten.

    The trick when I was traveling to many cities in Indonesia is go with lesbian couple, so everyone thought we’re an ordinary couple 🙂

    Btw, I’m so jealous with you guys, looks like you have very happy life, meanwhile I’m struggling living in homophobic zone.

    • We sure did- especially in Beijing and Xi’An. In Shanghai however it’s not underground at all and very much out there 🙂

  3. You are having a tour of India and having much fun. Glad to have a look at your joyful moments. Thanks for sharing this post.

  4. Dang, we missed hosting you guys aboard our sailboat when you were in SE Asia. We soon begin a trip Philippines to SE Asia and lots of people worry too much. We will be stopping in the same countries I used to live before I met my Filipino husband. Malaysia is particularly strange. It was almost as if everyone just attended a seminar on being nice to visitors. Kids shouted out to me from their classrooms as I walked past the school. “Welcome to Malaysia!” The difference between this form of welcome and the welcome received in the USA is startling. Mind you, I don’t go with the crowds and am a rather uncommon site.
    Captain Philip and Noli
    Hot Buoys Sailing

  5. is it any different if you are a straight and transgender couple. I know that in Thailand or Philippines the only problems we had was actually in Hotels run by gays who did not want transgenders there. we are thinking of going to Malaysia , attitudes to males seem from your blog to be ok. what about a TG and a Male.

    • Hi Greg- we think generally ok as long as you’re discreet and respect local customs. To be clear, I’d call or email the hotel ahead and double check with them if they’re ok with it.

  6. I agree too. And think it’s great that your blog is getting more popular and discussing, not only the destinations, but also these topics. “Travel broadens the mind” – for not only the traveller, but also hopefully for those that they come into contact with! Keep up the good work and happy, gay travels!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing!
    I and my boyfriend are planning to travel to Indonesia this summer. But probably we will make up our minds and go to safer places such as Malaysia or Vietnam.

  8. I agree that traveling in countries where homosexuality is outlawed is perfectly fine. I went on a trip to Uganda to do volunteer work in refugee health clinics. At first, I was concerned about going just for the simple fact that Uganda has such a horrible record when it comes to human rights violations and treatment of gays. But when I got there and started working with the people, I realized what I was doing was bigger than me and the people I was helping were not the ones making the laws.

    I say, go where you want, explore, and hopefully change some opinions along the way.

  9. Fred and others — Fred glad to see you settled neat Merida We recently bought a home in Centro Historico because of
    the very sweet attitude of the Merida people in general, specifically the the gay community,
    The gay community in Merida is growing quickly and the members are a big part of the community and they are seen
    as giving and kind!
    Merida needs to be on the next radar as a great place to go to visit if you are gay!
    The Mayan and Latino men are incredible and many are available!!

  10. My partner and I will be visiting Malaysia (first time) and Thailand (second) in December 2016. This is how I came across your blog. Like the two of you we have traveled the world, as of now, 26 countries in all. Some as many as 6 times. We have been to numerous Middle East countries (Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia,) and have never had any problems. India, which has laws against gay activity is one of our favorite destinations (five visits)… wonderful people and beautiful country. Our philosophy, we are not “gay” travelers, we are travelers. Conduct yourselves with dignity and there will be no issues in any country.

  11. Came across your blog and I just love it. what you say is very true..Being a Malaysian myself, the gay life here is interesting… Since this is a Muslim country, the people are very accommodating. In fact the local don’t really care if you are straight or gay ….. to them what you do in the bedroom is nothing concern with them ….. Do let me know if you are visiting Malaysia again…..would love to meet you ….

  12. I totally agree with you , me and my bf r in same situation we’ve been to some anti gay countries we almost even got arrested once ( I wrote a book about it haha) and since then he got scared now he inky wanna travel to safe countries but I’m going to show him your blog he might change his mind, the funny thing is that we are too nomads ( working on it ) and going to travel the world we already seen few countries and this summer ( by August ) we will travel to spain+ norway+ Brazil + canary island+ some Asia countries maybe or more Europe , I will be so happy if we get to meet some day , maybe this Sumer if you guys traveling to any country
    I love your blog btw


  13. So true! Especially the part about going to local gay own establishments and supporting them. I very much agreed with you. I was in Philippines and while I was in a big group which did help, everyone we met was pretty cool about me being gay. Several of my Filipino friend’s aunts wanted me to set up on dates with their gay friends haha. I was slightly worried about my upcoming work trip to India, but I do feel a bit better about it now 🙂


  14. I agree with you. I (for the most part, I’m sure I could think of exceptions) don’t see the sense in boycotting countries for human rights issues- like you say, the money you spend goes towards local people trying to look after their families and the more people that travel to a country, the more open it becomes. There’s a new tv series with Ellen Page and she is travelling around finding out what it’s like to be gay in different countries. It’s a really interesting twist on a travel show.

  15. Great post! I was always wondering about the gay or lesbian scene in Asia, especially in countries like Sri Lanka and India. Glad you guys show that it is possible and that locals didn’t care much.
    ‘t c

  16. Awesome insight. 🙂
    and yeah loved the Pic of ( Embracing our new friends at Bali Joe gay bar in Bali, Indonesia )
    keep posting …

  17. I loved the post! While I don’t know what it’s like to be discriminated like that, but I think it’s amazing you guys are shedding light on the whole situation. It’s pretty awesome that some countries are even promoting gay travel. One day, we’ll all have our heads out of our asses and we won’t have to worry about this. Until then, keep it coming guys!

  18. You guys look like you are having way too much fun!!! 😉 There will always be people who have issues with sexual orientation, religion, cultures, race, technology, lifestyles etc etc. This is part of why we travel; To cross borders and break barriers. We do it for ourselves first, to stay open minded but we also share our stores to open the minds of others. Writing great post like this is your part in opening people’s minds. For those who want to keep there minds closed…piss off . Don’t let them ruin your fun. 😉

  19. I think it’s important to still visit countries that aren’t as gay friendly, not just to support the local LGBT community, but to also let the rest of the locals see that anyone should be welcome in the country no matter what their sexuality.

  20. Fantastic job guys! My buddy JUST got his passport and visited me from the states to London a couple months ago. He’s nervous about traveling as he identifies as LGBT – I tell him how silly that is and he should explore as much as anyone else! I’ll be sharing this post with him and everyone 🙂

  21. I have always wondered how being a gay couple traveling in some of those anti-gay countries is. I have done a lot of travel in Africa in places that are very anti-gay. I understand boycotting due to the laws but at the same time, I agree with you point it’s the local business that you are hurting not the government that passes the laws.

  22. Thanks for this post. I think it’s something everyone should read (no matter their sexuality) because you bring up some really good points before. I especially liked the last couple of points, because you’re right boycotts traveling to a country doesn’t affect the politicians, but just hurts local businesses. Finding a supporting local LGBT business while traveling (in any country) is something everyone should do.

  23. That’s too bad that there are still countries with laws like this, especially for locals, but glad to hear you can still travel safely as a tourist! I agree with you about not boycotting these spots–its great if you can raise awareness and support local businesses, especially those that are LGBT and might be struggling in one way or another. Looks like you have had a wonderful time exploring!!

  24. What a great attitude to have. Glad you guys still visited those countries which had gay taboos. Hopefully one day they would be more accepting due to the influx of foreign travelers. Btw, I love Mandala Spa. My good friend owns it so i’m glad to see you guys pay them a visit!

  25. Yeah, I completely agree that you can spend your money in countries that have anti-gay laws. However, I make a point in spending that money in supporting the LGBTQ establishments as they do need support in promoting themselves in the face of their governments.

    It is important to remember that you do have to respect their views too as mutual respect will form a smooth process of agreement and hopefully one day bring about new laws.

  26. Thanks so much for sharing your travels and experiences. I wouldn’t have thought at first that they would turn a blind eye to tourists in these countries, but thinking about it again, it makes a lot of sense. Especially if tourism is one of the biggest parts of that country’s economy!

  27. I agree with some earlier commenters that it’s beyond ridiculous that you have to even think about this.! That being said, I’m glad your voices and experiences are out for everyone to learn from. There is such authenticity to your posts and this one is no different. It’s so important to get out there to travel and experience the world and along the way break apart homophobic mindsets.

  28. Thanks for this post! I agree especially with point 3: the money spent will be helping local businesses who may not care about, or support, such laws at all. Instead of boycotting entirely, many of these people have made their livelihood through tourism. Supporting pro-LGBT and LGBT-owned businesses will go a much longer way!

  29. Thanks for shedding some light on your experiences – interesting to find out that they turn a blind eye generally to tourists. makes sense though not wantign to start up a political uproar with foreign countries about something so politically sensitive. You would think that would draw more bad international attention to them than good.

    And very cool to hear that Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines have started to actively promote gay tourism. Hopefully other countries throughout Asia will begin to follow suit.

  30. Good job my loves <3 You guys are a huge inspiration to not just the LGBT community but also the travel community. I hate that is has to be an issue to start with but I applaud your approach and positivity while travelling in less welcoming places.
    PS: Should you ever end up in jail I'll come get ya 😉 no stoning or flogging on my watch!

  31. This is such a great post; it really makes sense what you say about not boycotting countries. Your Four Seasons stay looks incredible by the way – I’m jealous!

  32. I agree with you boys ansolutly in 100%. Funny think is that over thouse countrys male are “play” with Man more offen as in Europe but officialy No one confirm that ?
    Yes you looks like brothers ?

  33. It seriously sucks that you have to even think about these issues. People are people and that is it. I know it is not as simplistic as it should be. My besties are gay and travel, and in some places they can hold hands and in others they choose not to display their love, for safety reasons. Again, that sucks, being on your guard at all times. I guess, however that in some countries, Gordon and I also have to be more aware of PDA’s. You guys are so friendly, and everyone loves you, even in a virtual world. When I finally meet you both, no matter where – there will be a huge PDA.

  34. I agree too. And think it’s great that your blog is getting more popular and discussing, not only the destinations, but also these topics. “Travel broadens the mind” – for not only the traveller, but also hopefully for those that they come into contact with! Keep up the good work and happy, gay travels!

  35. Hello boys! 😉 First up, I so hate we didn’t meet you in the Philippines. We’re just about to go on our Asian trip next month, which will be short, but really happy to have read this post. As someone who grew up in a Christian country, I will say its great for you guys to still promote visiting countries here in Asia. The part I most loved, is you guys mentioning the support of local stores. What you said is completely true. You will see most people friendly, however, there are general beliefs and “old” culture still tied to a lot of people, so I say don’t hate, and show how you guys are just live everyone. Because everyone is unique and beautiful! Following your journey. 🙂

  36. This is such a great attitude, I agree 100%! My view is that if you avoid such places, in a way you are letting these laws to continue unchallenged. But if LGBT travellers head to these places, it’s part of normalising people’s attitudes on the LGBT community (it’s a lot easier for people to be hateful towards something they don’t know first-hand) and hopefully helping people to question why such laws exist.

  37. I agree with you guys. Boycotts starve families like the All Inclusive Resorts do in major Tourist Areas. If at all possible, avoid staying in places that give you no chance to enrich the local economy with your $. Living in a country that is not Gay Friendly can be tough, and I have done it, but I would not recommend it. Most people do not care what you do with each other. You can get in a lot of trouble fast if you should involve a local of any age. My best advice is: No “hook ups” with any locals while not in your home country where you understand the language and laws. Stay Safe!

      • Oh Hell yeah! My Husband and I are now retired in Mexico and love it here. Very accepting and totally safe. We do not rock any boats and have never been comfortable with any “PDA” even in the states. That kind of thing could have got you killed while we were growing up. Still could today in the wrong places. In our travels in and around Mexico and Central America, we have never run into any open Homophobia and feel we have been lucky. We have been together 30 years, and now finally married over a year now. While my son was little, he traveled right along with us, but now, as he has a life and a job in the US, we get occasional visits when we can go out on adventure together. Thanks for taking us along on your exciting journeys. We both really like seeing what you are up to next! We hope the Galapagos Islands will be our next big adventure once we are finished building our “Home Base” here. Looking forward to more!!

          • Oh would we ever! The question is can we. Keep us in mind and update us as your plans progress. If I had to make a decision right this very moment, it would have to be no, but who knows what this summer will bring? There is a chance. Of course, if you are ever in Mexico, please let us know. We are near Merida and are a short drive from many ruins and neat cities here. Would love to show you around.

            Belize is the country we lived in, that turned homophobic while we were there due to the influence of a group of US based Evangelicals that came down and stirred up a lot of hate. Never directly affected us, but we saw the hand writing on the wall. There were other problems too. While the beaches and islands are great, the inland is poor and many times desperate. Crime is now common and there is much violence. If you were not a local and Gay to boot, you could be targeted, and we decided not to be a target. Very happy here, safe in Mexico.

            Keep us updated!! Thank you so much.

          • Thanks Fred, I will email you. I’ve been to Guatemala and Mexico, but that’s about it in Central America. Didn’t realise it got so bad in Belize!

          • It is sad about Belize. It will get better in time, I hope. We traveled to Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala and loved them all, then settled on Belize. Got there and lived there almost a year and learned.

            Send me an email address and I will send you some pictures of what we have here. 25 minutes to the beaches (Gulf Coast. 3 hours to Cancun.) Motul is a quiet little Colonial town. The big city of Merida is near by and parts of it look like US cities.

            Hope your day is wonderful!


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